June 1, 2016

Movie 43 (2013)

There are some good “vignette” movies, Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) and Night on Earth (1991) come to mind, but unfortunately this isn’t one of them. Not to say that it can’t be entertaining – sometimes you just feel like enjoying something so irreverent and crude without worrying about quality or sense. I’d like to compare it to things like John Waters’ works or John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus (2006) or Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), but alas, I can’t even do that, since that would be an insult to those filmmakers. Ultimately it comes closest to the Farrelly brothers’ other gross-out comedies like Dumb and Dumber (1994), Shallow Hall (2001), There’s something about Mary (1998), but even those were more cohesive and had a clear direction. If anything, this film’s greater merit is the fact that they got the ensemble cast to participate and the outrageous things they got them to do (Hugh Jackman with a hairy sack hanging from his neck or Halle Berry with huge prosthetics). In the end, I hope it was all in good fun for everyone involved. My personal favorite was the Middleschool Date part, with Chloe Grace Moretz’s moment and the way all the men around her deal with it by freaking out. It almost reminded me a little of Ginger Snaps (2002) if only for a few seconds. Overall I don’t know if this really warrants the title “the Citizen Kane of awful” as Richard Roeper put it, but it is certainly not good. But that’s OK.

May 30, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Other than the name and J.J. Abrams’ magic touch, I’m not sure what this has to do with the original Cloverfield (2008). There is a brief moment in the film where for a few frames, an address sign proudly proclaims “10 Cloverfield Lane” but other than that, I don’t see a big connection. The aesthetic is completely different (gone is the found-footage style of the original) and I am actually thankful for it. Shaky-handheld-cam is so 2008. Who even uses camcorders anymore? Maybe a true sequel should have been filmed on Snapchat and it would be gone from cinemas after the first time you watch it. Thankfully, this has a lot more in common with things like The Mist (2007) and maybe Prisoners (2013) and Doubt (2008). The psychological thriller aesthetic takes center stage, with a stellar performance by Goodman. Winstead was ok too, trying hard to shed the remnants of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that she inherited from 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs The World. She is a sort of badass version of Brie Larson in Room (2015) but with a little less drama and a little more badassery. Overall, I liked the ambiguous nature of the plot, always keeping you guessing where it is going. The ending didn’t disappoint, although not entirely unpredictable, it did feel somewhat satisfying and didn’t leave me hanging (not to say that open-ended films are bad). Considering this is Trachtenberg’s directorial debut, I’m curious to see what’s next in store for him, as this is a very promising start.

September 22, 2013

The Act of Killing (2013)

If your idea of a great documentary is having the real-life mass murdering protagonist singing about peace in front of a waterfall with stand-ins for his victims taking the metal wires used to kill them off their necks, presenting him with a medal and thanking him for sending them to heaven, all shot in Barbara Walters-style soft-focus, then this is the movie for you. This is something so surreal and horrific that, ethical qualms aside, absolutely must have been made a documentary of. Despite the obvious issue of the subjects' perhaps deceit as to the true nature of the film, I think it was something that the director (and the big name exec-producers behind this, namely Werner Herzog and Errol Morris) couldn't in good conscience give up the opportunity to make. It is at once a historical document, psychological drama and participatory documentary (to use Nichols' convention). This is some dark stuff, and I've recently watched an interview where the filmmaker compared making his film to going into a Germany where the Nazis have won and interviewing Hitler. Well, that, except with more chubby asians in drag. Yes, there is humour in there too, at times maybe misplaced, but still. Overall an amazing film to watch, including the cathartic conclusion that brings a sort of much-needed but too-little-too-late kind of closure to the story, if not to the many victims and victims' families affected by the actions of the criminals presented before us.

September 15, 2013

Jobs (2013)

I sooo wish that this would have gotten the 'The Social Network' treatment. I wholeheartedly believe that even with someone like Kutchner, Fincher would have made a masterpiece out of it. Casting-wise, I wasn't too upset about Kutchner's selection. Having grown with him in that 70s show, he felt like he belonged among all the bearded, long-haired misfit computer geeks from Apple's beginnings. Without Fincher's edge, however, this seems more like a 2 hour, lawyer and marketing-team-approved commercial for Steve Jobs (not necessarily for apple). It claims not to shy away from his negative aspects (showing how he withheld shares from some of the people who were there from the beginning and cutting ties with his daughter), but overall it glosses over that with a story that it wants to portray as one of a visionary taking back what was his to begin with. It is as if it tries to hit all the keypoints in the apple/Jobs history, while not devoting enough to the 'soul' of it all, but rather trying to create a well-balanced, accessible, digestible story that is superficial under the guise of being genuine. I suppose, much like Jobs' philosophy, it projects an image of an ideal, hitting all the key cues for making us believe that ideal, but is, in the end, a simple product - average, but overhyped. 

July 22, 2013

Warm Bodies (2013)

It's not the latest Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, but it does the trick in terms of fresh rotting zombie fare "with a twist". it's actually quite adorable and dare I say cute, with good pacing and relatively good cinematography given the budget. Seeing familiar places from Montreal making cameos was also a pleasant touch, and the whole Romeo & Juliette angle along with all the other little jokes are very welcome. With all the vampire romance fiction out there, it was really fun to see the zombies get their share of romance and 'heart warming' adventures. Overall very welcome, and the addition of Rob Corddri and John Malkovich only serve to make the package even more appealing. definitely worth your time. 

February 13, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Heralded as the new breakout film of 2012, both for its director and its child starlet, Beasts boasts characters, acting, location and a plot that can only exist where they do, and I would almost even go as far as describing it as a rare example of a seemingly dichotomous fantasy-cinéma-vérité-drama genre. I would say this is a pioneer in this new genre, but I can’t help but draw parallels to both Pedro González-Rubio’s 2009’s Alamar and (to a much lesser extent) to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work, especially with his use of non-professional actors coming from the region where the film is set. In fact, Dwight Henry, in the role of Wink, hails from Louisiana and claims he has been “in neck-high water” during Katrina, which gave him a unique “inside understanding for what this movie is about”. Other than the historically inaccurate Aurochs (Zeitlin used baby potbellied pigs that he dressed up with fur and horns, for practical and budgetary reasons), the film’s main weakness is the plot, which despite being captivating and beautifully filmed, is rather thin, relying primarily on the interaction between the heroine and her father with their environment and nature. Fittingly, the film’s only real brush with reality is the devastating plan involving the levee, which leads to the brief but chilling encounter with “real life” and the harsh consequences that it entails when compared with the idyllic and carefree life presented at the beginning (and the end). Ultimately, the film acts as a documentary in the sense that it presents the smooth flow of life and nature in the dream-like Bathtub, and any attempt to pry its inhabitants from this community, effectively waking them up from the dream, does not end well. The ending is thankfully left somewhat ambiguous and open to us, but not without making it clear that Hushpuppy has grown in the course of the movie (thus fulfilling the classical dramatic arc and in a way conforming to the narrative structure Hollywood likes so much). This is not to say that it is not enjoyable and a great work to experience, especially considering it is the director’s first feature. I am curious to see what his next project will be, as he has already set relatively high standards of excellence for himself, especially considering this first film is also his first Oscar nomination. Overall great, well deserving of the nomination.

February 10, 2013

The Master (2012)

The Master is one of those films that I wanted to see ever since Joaquin Phoenix became sane again (although judging from his performance in The Master, I have my doubts). It is also Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movie since 2007’s There Will Be Blood, which I was hoping would have continued a streak of genius from Boogie Nights to Magnolia and even Punch Drunk Love (which I liked). Unfortunately (and contrary to the many positive reviews) it didn't capture me as much as it did others. I must admit that while the cinematography is amazing (maybe in part thanks to the use of 65mm negative throughout, normally only reserved for IMAX features) and is complemented by great performances well deserving of their Oscar nominations, the film as a whole didn’t do it for me. The whole link to Scientology wasn’t explored enough (and I think it could have made for some very compelling plot) and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character (the L. Ron Hubbard analogue) wasn’t explored nearly enough as I would have liked. Overall it is disjoint and unfocused, and if it weren’t for the overbearing Scientology angle, this should have really been a movie about the unstable alcoholic WWII vet that we are presented with at the beginning. His whole encounter with ‘The Cause’ and their agenda just serves to redirect the focus to their antics instead of allowing us to fully explore Phoenix’s character, who either seems to barely hold it together or put up a really good show, considering his last stint in I’m Still Here. either way, only for hardcore PTA or Phoenix fans.

January 25, 2013

Broken City (2013)

It seems like Mark Wahlberg has been slowly building himself a career that involves him being typecast into the role of the down-on-his-luck, working-class maybe ex-cop character, thrust in a web of double-crossing and framing that’s just too much for his simple Joe-six-pack (recovering) self. In a universe that seems to always be Boston,  where characters are always in the midst of the old Hollywood cliché of Irish catholic or Italian (or in this case Latino) communities, there isn't much place for straying from the formula. And formulaic it is, complete with political scandal, financial fraud and “they want to take what little you have that you worked for so hard all your life” mentality. I won’t say it’s not a great fun to watch, considering the expectations. Performances are solid both from the main cast and the supporting characters, and if you like the kind of movies that Wahlberg has been pumping out (you know the kind, Four Brothers, We Own the Night, Contraband and even The Town, which I was surprised to find out didn't include Wahlberg), you’re sure to also enjoy this one. He even has a new one coming out, Pain & Gain, which is a little stray from the formula, and is a Michael Bay project, with all that that implies, but in the end, there is still a heist and Wahlberg’s lovable loser. Definitely a fun watch.

January 6, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Trying to navigate through the hype and fanboyhood that surrounded this juggernaut, I opted for the 24fps 3D version of the film. Reading through several reviews that panned it, I couldn’t bring myself to sit through 2:50 hours of “soap-opera” effect, but I like 3D so that worked for me. Without going through a comparison to the novel (which I didn’t read), it’s still easy to see that this has taken the source material and stretched it as much as it could. By comparison, the entire The Hobbit novel is shorter than the first Lord of the Rings book, so consider the material that fueled the first movie in LoTR trilogy, cut away some 200 pages, then split that in 3 and make a movie out of each part - that’s the Hobbit. I’m sure financial or “fan service” considerations would have been in play when making this decision. Maybe studio directors were thinking more about how many Hobbit figurines they could sell over the next 3 years than whether this was going to be a good movie. As for the film itself, it is of the same great quality that the first 3 LoTR movies benefited, albeit a little diluted because of duration. This could have benefited from some significant cuts. The usual culprit is the extended dinner/song/dance scene at the beginning, which honestly I didn’t find that long as it was happening, but which contributed to my indifference for most of what followed. I could mostly relate to Gandalf and Bilbo, most likely because I like both actors portraying them, but except for them, most of everybody else was forgettable. As for the CG creatures, Gollum excels again as always, and I did like the Great Goblin which was a filthy yet entertaining bit of goblin royalty. Plot-wise, if this wasn’t based on a book, it would be risible. Gandalf and the great Eagles act a bit too often as a deus ex machina, and some obvious choices seem like they were made for the sole reason of filling in some plot. The most glaring example, like in LoTR, is the Great Eagles fallacy. in the words of the great philosoraptor: “At the end of lord of the rings frodo Gets eagles to fly him back - Why didn't those sluts fly him there in the first place”. But I digress. Overall this was enjoyable, if a tad long. I’ll probably watch the other 2 films, and maybe give 48fps version a shot at some point as well, if I feel really bored. Essentially this is more of the same LoTR goodness, so if you loved those, be sure to not miss this as well.

November 18, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

the 23rd James Bond film is Sam Mendes’ 6th feature. In a career that started with American Beauty, it is hard to surpass oneself, especially with a Bond film. When you are tasked with directing something so near and dear to the fans’ hearts and to the studios' pockets, one wonders what kind of room for artistic creativity there is left, after going through the hoops of satisfying everyone. The plot is nothing new, having been written by the same guys that wrote the last 5 Bond movies. The script hits all the classic Bond points, including the opening theme sequence, gadgets, cars, bond girl and villain. Somewhat reminiscent of an evil Julian Assange, Bardem easily navigates through the role of the evil mastermind with a vengeance - a role he is well versed in as we’ve come to see in No Country for Old Men. Craig again brings his own brand of Bond to the franchise, with his characteristic rough, action-oriented take on spying.  Love him or hate him, he is signed to at least 2 more Bond films after this, so we are stuck with this blonde, blue-eyed, Heineken-drinking bond for a little while longer. I personally like Craig, and can safely say that I’m a bigger Craig fan than I am a Bond fan, so I do not mind, but like all Bonds, everyone has a favourite one and you can’t please everybody. Cinematography is very strong and I enjoyed the beautiful images in full IMAX glory, even though at times it slipped into ye olde blue-orange contrast territory, but for the most part I liked it, especially the Scotland scenes filmed at Glen Etive in the highlands of scotland. I can’t say that the plot was amazing, but then again, were Bond movies ever about plot? Mendes makes it much more about the constant fight between Craig and Bardem, reducing the film to the emotional struggle between the 2, with M stuck in the middle (with Judy Dench being as wonderful as always, in her 7th Bond film as M). Overall enjoyable, even if formulaic (but then again if you complain about Bond being formulaic, maybe you shouldn’t watch it all together). The computer ‘hacking’ parts could have been made slightly more realistic and less ‘3D representation of computer code’ à la Hackers, and a few other parts defy reality/physics to a good extent, but once you get past that, it’s definitely a fun 2 hours. 

November 14, 2012

The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)

This looks like something that came about when RZA thought to himself one day - hey, I like Kung-Fu movies and I got money and friends in the movie industry, so why couldn’t I pump out an awesome Kung-Fu flick of my own? It helps when those friends are Tarantino and Eli Roth and when you’re a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. I can’t say this is a good movie, not in the sense that things like Sukiyaki Western Django or Machete are any good. This is pure throwback to B-movie territory in the vein of Grindhouse, albeit playing with the classical Kung-Fu flick genre. It’s entertaining to a certain extent, especially considering the always wonderful Lucy Liu’s participation and Russel Crowe who seems to have put on a bit weight and was just having fun in this, wielding a steampunk-style gun-knife. RZA makes sure, like his alter-ego in Californication, Samurai Apocalypse, that he comes out on top, no matter what. From his tongue-in-cheek ‘blacksmith’ character (get it, his real name is Henry Smith, but he’s also black - hence: blacksmith), to the fact that he’s a freed slave (Henry Smith, curiously, is a famous lynching victim, not sure if related), to the fact that his mother in the flashbacks is Pam Grier, RZA works hard at establishing a link between african-american history and the world of Kung-Fu. Overall it’s a fun little movie, ultimately not excelling in neither comedy nor Kung-Fu or film-making, but what it lacks in technique it makes up in nostalgia and plain old silly fun. I couldn't have imagined anything else coming from the RZA, and in that sense, he delivers on exactly the expectations that fans of the Wu-Tang clan have come to expect, be it for better or worse.

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

I absolutely love this film. I am a fan of In Bruges, so I was delighted to hear that McDonagh took a break from playwriting and wrote/directed yet another masterpiece. Adapting well to the Hollywood setting and America, he presents us with a colourful (and psychotic) cast of characters that are as hilarious as they are deranged. It’s always good to see Christopher Walken in a role that doesn't *completely* parody itself. Yes, his characteristic delivery is still there, but it somehow works, because it’s not any less crazy than the other roles. Woody Harrelson, when not busy promoting ‘Rampart’ is also great here, delivering a comical yet deadly version of a psycho. Not nearly as serious as in Natural Born Killers, but a lot more mature (if you can call it that) when considering his career over the years. Sam Rockwell gets another chance to shine, as he did in Moon and Hitchhiker's and Choke, proving again that he is a severely underused actor. I won’t spoil the plot but suffice it to say that if you enjoyed early Tarantino and Guy Ritchie multiple-narrative ensemble cast crime fare that those two were known for, you are bound to enjoy Seven Psychopaths even more, as it seems to go back to the genre’s roots. It is not yet another example of the genre, and is rather self-conscious (at times reminiscent of a film-within-a-film), but it does this with such ease and fun and joy that is refreshing considering most of everything that’s out there. Finally, as is usually the case, Tom Waits’ dark addition to the cast/plot is very welcome, adding a kind of mysticism and unease that fits right in within the whole feel of the movie. Great work overall, highly recommended. 

October 28, 2012

Cloud Atlas (2012)

in their second “serious” directorial effort after the matrix (i’m purposely not counting “speed racer”), the Wachowski’s team up with Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run / The International fame) to bring an ambitious high budget adaptation that still manages to be considered ‘independent’ despite the $102 million dollar budget. The trailer alone has set the tone for an ambitious, history, location and reality-spanning juggernaut. The multi-narrative style is reminiscent of things like The Fountain, Babel and Tree of Life, but it ups the ante by introducing an amazing star-studded cast and getting their money’s worth by getting them to portray a large portion of the many different characters across different epochs. But unlike the approach taken in things like Orlando, where the the same character is portrayed across time, here the same actors portray seemingly different characters, bound together only by loose narrative elements and overall ‘feel’ of their role. While not always sticking to positive or negative roles, the actors for the most part portray ‘equivalents’ of their various characters across time. Despite the apparent forced linking of plots (mostly using meaningless narrative details or just allusions), the overall connection between the stories, I found, was made through the thematic. Themes of rebellion, fight for freedom, going against the mold, and so on are prevalent throughout the film. This establishes a kind of auteur-like identity for the Wachowskis, considering the very similar themes in The Matrix and V for Vendetta. Overall very enjoyable, as it spans many genres and you could say there is something here for everybody. From the historical slavery epic, to early gay rights issues, 70’s cop movies, political intrigue to futuristic and post-apocalyptic big-brother-type scenarios, this film tries to satisfy as many genres as it can. For the most part, it does a very good job at achieving this. My only doubt is whether or not the stories could have functioned as well on their own as they did as part of the multi-narrative style, or was their worth amplified by the very mode of presentation. There is no doubt that the Wachowskis and Tykwer are masters of the cinematic language, often cutting and arranging scenes based on theme or emotion or just plain movement/action, so connection is established throughout, going beyond the mere narrative. Definitely worth watching on a big screen, but maybe a re-watch might ruin it, dispelling the magic that a first screening might invoke. 

October 17, 2012

Argo (2012)

I wasn’t expecting too much from this, after having seen the trailer. It was basically a collection of wide-rimmed glasses and moustaches wobbling about worried about how Iran is evil. Maybe with a bit of Affleck to spice things up as a sort of Bourne/Bond of the 70’s. But alas, to my pleasant surprise, it ended up being a wonderful thriller, without too much of the cheap action that a rewrite of history could entail (I’m looking at you Munich). You can really see Affleck maturing in his career as a director in this one. From small town crime/heist films (Gone Baby Gone / The Town) he is now tackling International hostage crisis in Iran, based on true events, no less. I really liked the pace, I didn’t feel bored nor did it feel like it was trying too hard to put me at the edge of my seat with car chases or fights (Taken 2 review to come). Even the final stretch felt more like a calculated suspense scene than police cars chasing a plane. Overall it was fun to watch, the 70’s glasses and moustaches did not distract at all and actually worked really well to recreate the era, and despite some Canadians feeling that this film robbed Canada of the extent of its role in the rescue of those hostages, I feel it worked really well as a stand alone film. Yes, it can get a little anti-Iran at times, and arguably the Iranians had plenty of reason to be angry after the US granted asylum to their dictator. Yes there are some stereotypically bearded brown men that are supposed to be antagonists to a western audience. So what. The revolutionary guards right after the revolution were most probably ruthless and angry, as they probably still are considering they are basically political police. It is after all a Hollywood film, with things like John Goodman and Alan Arkin cracking jokes about fake movies back in Hollywood. I don’t expect it to be very realistic or sensible to international politics. Highly recommended.

August 28, 2012

Total Recall (2012)

I think this is one of those films that I wanted to like, and while there is nothing terribly wrong with it (actually I did enjoy the visuals a lot), the fact that the 1990 iteration exists kind of ruined it for me. In fact, if it weren’t for the original, this would have been yet another Len Wiseman (of Underworld “fame”) product, only salvaged by the association with Philip K. Dick, which the 1990 version also enjoyed. The fact is, I believe Paul Verhoeven to be a much better director than Wiseman, and despite the 22 year difference between the movies, I find the original to still hold today, without CG and with so called outdated effects. In fact the few parts that raised a chuckle in this version were the winks to the old film, like the 3 breasted lady or the border mask robot woman, who ended up being just a lookalike in this film. Other than the old film, this is more of a Blade Runner (itself a Philip K. Dick adaptation) or Fifth Element knockoff, especially visually speaking, and if it weren’t for the fact that i’ll throw money at anything futuristic/post-apocalyptic/hover-cars related, I could have cared less about it. Perhaps i’m being too hard on Wiseman. He is afterall a relatively competent effects-flick director, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this new Total Recall at all, I just think that it was too soon for a remake, and it wasn’t different enough for me to consider it as a viable retelling of the mythos. Also that creepy little conjoined twin thing from the original could have made a comeback, I missed that little guy.

Iron Sky (2012)

Iron Sky has been germinating somewhere in the bowels of the internet since 2008 when the production company put out their teaser trailer and brought it to Cannes looking for financiers. It was supposed to be one of those new productions, with on-line collaborators contributing in various ways, making this a supposedly community effort. I didn’t have a lot of high hopes for it even being released anywhere but on the web, but lo and behold it actually got some theater releases and I managed to finally catch a copy of it for home. I wasn’t really expecting quality, so in that sense the fact that I was well intoxicated contributed somewhat to my enjoyment. For a “low” budget film (€7.5 million) this stands pretty well alongside more mainstream “holywood” productions, especially in the effects department. The acting wasn’t spectacular, but the cast was pretty respectable, with B-movie darling Udo Kier and a few other unknowns, it managed to drag along through a relatively comprehensible plot. The comedy wasn’t the greatest, although it did have some highlights. I especially liked the famous Downfall scene remake. Other than that, there is nothing much more to say. It’s a moon nazi movie, with all that that entails. There are plenty of nazi references, so think Dead Snow, but instead of Teen Horror, it’s a Hollywood effects blockbuster. I knew it wasn’t going to be the next Sky Captain (which wouldn’t have made it perfect by any means), so for what it was worth, I liked it. God knows there are much (much) worse things out there. It’s interesting to see a low budget collaborative web-movie take on a hollywood effects blockbuster style. You know it won’t work, but I still commend them for trying and having a certain success. Now they are supposed to be making a prequel and sequel, as well as a video-game based on the film. I say good for them. it’s about time someone took on Uwe Boll territory and tried to infuse it with something fresh and fun instead of the same old shit that he’s been pumping out forever. Definitely not to watch sober.

February 22, 2012

The Help (2011)

So Hollywood tries to tackle the issue of '60s south segregation, yet again, and yet again only gives us a glossy, inspiring, positive-outlook view. Yes there are so called “hard moments” and who knows, maybe someone in the audience might even shed a tear. Nevertheless, this is still a blond white girl’s story of how she rose to literary fame by telling black folks’ stories. I don’t know, maybe this can indeed function as some inspirational look back for black kids and “lessons learned” fare for white kids that otherwise wouldn’t look twice at the subject. maybe. and maybe not. maybe the long-lasting effects of slavery and segregation can’t possibly be summed up in a colourful southern tale with sassy black ladies and mean white women. I’m not one to tell. This definitely ain’t this year’s “Precious” that’s for sure, and it sure as hell ain’t anywhere close to Dogville or Manderlay (both of which starred a pretty white girl, curiously one that is also in The Help in Bryce Dallas Howard’s case, in the lead, but despite being written and directed by a Dane, still managed to be more poignant and relevant to the issue than The Help). I suppose it’s unfair to compare, as in the end, The Help is a well-made movie, targeting a certain genre, demographic and style, but one can’t help but wonder how different it could have been if it didn’t look so much like those Stepford Wivesque scenes from Edward Scissorhands. Overall, this can function well as the perpetuation or perhaps the thing that keeps the mythos of '60s segregation alive. After all, forgetting about it all together is still worse than remembering it in a nicely consumable format. Overall, good but not great. Definitely a must if you enjoyed the novel.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2012)

So here is something that seems like it was market-researched to jerk those tears. Little boy with social anxiety or maybe Asperger's? Dead father that is presented as the perfect dad in flashbacks? 9/11? echoes of the holocaust? can this get more pretentious? I’m not really sure how Tom Hanks can still be taken seriously, especially alongside Sandra Bullock, but maybe it is in movies like this, where director/screenwriter completely gave up on self-respect or decency, that those two are still allowed to “star” in. The kid is this most ephebic NAMBLA bait, that is paired up with “of all people” an old mute man that might or might not be his long lost grandpa (it totally is his granpa). Are you kidding me? I’d be offended if this was to be the movie that’s supposed to “make 9/11 all better”, and considering all the other offerings, this might just be it, (which I bet is what got it an Oscar nomination). If there is anything redeeming about this, is the always wonderful Max von Sydow (and to a lesser extent John Goodman and Viola Davis, of 2008 Doubt's “crying my snot out” fame). Von Sydow, in what must have been a brilliant stroke of genius, doesn’t say a word throughout the film, but manages to convey more emotion and authenticity than the whole cast combined. The “plot” conclusion, with the reveal of the little boy’s mom journey through new york, “preparing the way” for her kid to come and pull a fit on random people named black (and yes, he does go around town looking for and talking to “blacks”) is preposterous at best. Like what, you have nothing better to do with your single mom free time than to entertain your crappy kid’s pipe dreams? bitch please. Also, the fact that they’re Jewish and Hanks claims he “only became a jeweler because he wanted to support his family but really he wanted to become a scientist”? really? cliché much? I bet all Jewish jewelers are really just scientists at heart. Unfortunately the extent of his science goes as far as giving his kid a copy of Hawking's “A Brief History of Time” and making up some bs story about some long lost new york borough. Nobody Cares! this better not win the Oscar. or rather, hopefully it’ll win and convince everyone once and for all that the Oscars are bs.

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) (2011)

Almodóvar’s latest sexy Spanish romp is pushing his usual motifs more towards the horror genre, but like he claims, this is "a horror story without screams or frights". Most likely it is very accessible to the more squeamish  viewers that wouldn’t normally enjoy horror. In fact I’d almost have a sick fascination with getting people who aren’t into horror to see this, because truly there is nothing really disturbing in the images other than the psychological implications of the plot. When I first heard of this film, there was the immediate association with Franju’s 1960 “Les yeux sans visage” which is one of my favourite films, but alas, this is merely inspired by that film, and is in fact an adaptation of a later french novel published in 1995. Overall, this is an Almodóvar work throughout, complete with all the signature plot twists, color palettes and gender play that he’s perfected so well in his previous work. I can’t possibly say that this is his best yet, mostly because it fits in a different genre than his other work, but it nevertheless fits nicely within his cinematic oeuvre. It did keep me guessing up until maybe halfway in, when his daughter’s purported assailant gets captured, but that did not detract too much from enjoying the rest of the film. if anything, the slow progression towards the eventual reveal and conclusion just made it more compelling to watch, especially in Almodóvar stylish and passion-filled presentation. Banderas does a good job as the obsessed and ultimately psychotic plastic surgeon, and the beautiful Elena Anaya is convincing in the role of the captive with the secret known to all but us. Overall definitely worth the watch, not only for Almodóvar fans.

February 21, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tomas Alfredson’s second feature, after 2008’s Let the Right One In (original Swedish version) is a much more ambitious and “serious” film. Adapted from the eponymous 1974 John le Carré novel, it presents us with many characters (portrayed by an ensemble cast of British actors, including John Hurt). Atmospherically and stylistically this is a masterpiece. in a sense, it is akin to what Mad Men does with '60s advertising ad agencies, except applied to '70s British secret intelligence. It presents that dreary, gray and brown, gloomy world of old men huddled up in rooms with cigarettes and mountains of documents while hypothesizing about soviet plots. It might not sound exciting, but visually I couldn’t resist but be completely engulfed by it. The plot is, as one would expect, rather difficult to follow. Not only does it start in medias res, in line with other le Carré work, but it also jumps back and forth between present and flashback, characters and events that at times I found myself going back to earlier parts of the film which seemed to make no sense when I watched them, but shape the part of the plot that I’m watching now and are essential to understanding it. It’s not entirely unpleasant (and can even be rewarding, when finally getting the whole picture, to understand what some parts were about) but it can be, at times, confusing (though one would think the spy world of the '70s cold war was just that). Overall enjoyable if you can get over the fact that at first it won’t make sense. Yes, there are many scenes where someone that was just introduced would utter some words with a British accent that seem to make no difference to the plot but make all the difference later on, so being attentive and alert to everything and everyone that is present can help, but once you get into the rhythm of it, the overall product is very rewarding.

January 29, 2012

The Artist (2011)

The artist is yet another one of those films that dabbles in black and white and tries pushing the envelope even further back into Hollywood’s history. I still remember back in 1993 when Spielberg was supposedly taking a chance with black and white, with worries of audience used to color not accepting it. Oh how far we’ve gone. With things like the Cohens’ ‘The Man Who Wasn’t there’ and Clooney’s ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’ it seems like black and white isn’t so unusual anymore. Now they’re going to great lengths to emulate the style. Soderberg’s ‘The Good German’ dabbles in ‘40s lenses and microphones, but it still doesn’t feel quite authentic enough. Now we have The Artist, that goes back even more, back to the silent era. Its star is a kind of Douglas Fairbanks, that much like Fairbanks was also hit by the advent of the talkies (albeit, as the ending shows, for different reasons). The style, I would say, is even more impeccable when compared to the originals. Michel Hazanavicius went as far as shooting in 1:33 aspect ratio, with a 22 fps frame-rate for that sped-up effect, and with intertitles instead of dialogue. It’s not all in the technical details though. The acting and plot also follow traditional silent-film melodrama fare. There is even the hero dog that saves the protagonist from a fire. It’s maybe ironic that we had to wait this long for technology and style to advance enough for us to be able to emulate the low-tech style of the late ‘20s/early ‘30s. Style aside, however, this works very well as a fun walk down Hollywood’s own memory lane. A lot of the references might be lost on non-film-history-buffs, but I think it stands enough on its own to be enjoyed even by the average movie goer (if they were somehow convinced to attend a silent movie). Overall great fun, and not just for the retro-qualities. 

January 28, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Actually? not bad. Great effects and action, great editing and direction (from, surprisingly, Brad Bird, who directed things like The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and I can’t say I was bored at any one moment throughout. Everything was exciting (especially that climbing the Burj Khalifa scene, that was supposedly done with no stunt double) and despite the 2 hour 18 minute length, it did not feel like it was at any point being stretched. Of course, Cruise is hard to take serious these days, especially with his character’s blatant ‘we’ll do what’s right despite what others think’ attitude, but overall the whole ‘over-the-topness’ of it all fits nicely in the Mission Impossible universe. So what if they ‘break into the Kremlin’ or disarm a nuclear missile seconds before it hits its target by pressing a big red button (a thing that even the characters in the film can’t resist to joke about after the fact). Really it is just a throwback to the good old '90s action/spy movies, where it doesn’t need to take itself too seriously to be successful. Overall, surprisingly enjoyable, despite the Cruise, except for maybe the last bit that seemed somewhat out of place and almost stalkerish. Still, worth it in IMAX.

January 23, 2012

A Serbian Film (Srpski Film) (2011)

In a film where the baseline for normalcy is the mother catching the young son watching one of the pornos his dad starred in and lovingly lectures the dad about not leaving the old films around the house for their son to find, you know it can only get worse. A Serbian Film is one of those films that is often listed among things like ‘human centipede’, ‘antichrist’, ‘irreversible’ and ‘Ōdishon’ as an extremely messed up film. And it does, in many ways, share the graphic violence/shock/gore elements with those others mentioned. It does have some bit of politics/social commentary slipped in (considering the title and the movie-within-a-movie director’s comments), mainly relating to the war that has ravaged the region in the '90s, but this is by no means necessary to understand the film nor is it very significant in terms of the geopolitical situation of the region or the imagined community of national identity that it pretends to define. As far as the psychological shock-value is concerned, it does try to push the envelope a little. I’m gonna say a little, because you could see the ending come a mile away, to a certain extent, but it still does not detract from the ‘entertainment’ if you can call it that. Clearly not to watch if you’re squeamish, but it can very much be enjoyed if you think of it as one of those over-the top B-movies with over-the-top violence. There is some humour at the beginning (and, surprisingly, in a good way, at the very end), but other than that the tone is pretty much dead serious. The plot isn’t amazing and big part of it relies on flashback and a ‘MacGuffin drug’ that drives a big part of it, but other than that, it’s pretty much all about the violence (with, granted, some bits of sex mixed in) and the psychological shock. It’s not a perfect movie in any way you look at it, but it does hold a special place in the pantheon of shock alongside the other films listed above. Definitely worth a watch if you felt absolutely compelled to watch the rest of them. 

November 25, 2011

Harry Potter (film series) (2001-2011)

Daniel Radcliffe is a poor orphan who goes to magical magic school that you can only get to from an imaginary train station on the London subway. There he meets jailbait Emma Watson but stupidly doesn't do her 'cause he's all upset about his dead parents and instead she shacks up with his best friend. In retribution Harry bones his best friend's little sister. There's also an old good magician that runs the school and evil Ralph Finnes with a missing nose that's the evil magician that killed Harry's parents. For basically movies 2-7 harry runs around looking for "magic trinkets" with Latin sounding names, doing magic stuff like riding brooms and learning potions and spells (also with Latin sounding names) and interacting with an ensemble cast of every known british actor ever (John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Helena 'crazy bitch' Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branagh, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman, Bill Nighy, John Cleese). at the end he finds out that 'a bit of evil' flew off Finnes when he killed Harry's parents and that evil is now in Harry, so in order to defeat him he needs to die himself. so he does, then comes back from the dead to avenge his parents (and himself?) and to find that Finnes destroyed the school and killed a bunch of the cast. Harry defeats him and everyone's happy. The end.

November 13, 2011

Monsters (2010)

Here is something that was filmed for $500k, a budget that’s under even that for an episode of a show on HBO, but that nevertheless manages to create images that one would find in many other big Hollywood productions. That alone, however, is not enough to make a film compelling to watch, which is why I was very pleased to discover a film that goes well beyond conventional sci-fi. It’s part-post-apocalyptic, near-future fare, part-political commentary (those Aliens and the fence keeping them away from the united states are a pretty obvious comment) and part-relationship-drama. Oh, and I didn’t even mention that it works best as a suspense thriller, since the uncertainty of it all (most often not due to the aliens) serves only to make this even more compelling to watch. There really isn’t much out there to compare this to and the closest relatives I can think of are District 9 and Children of Man (and no, this has nothing to do with Blair Witch or Quarantine/REC, despite the obvious parallels, and in fact comparing it to them would be an insult to this movie). It is at once subdued and burning with immediacy, revealing yet obscure, fast paced yet slow-rhythmed, in short, most definitely a must.

The Ides of March (2011)

Another great political drama that aims to ‘expose’ the delicate balance between ideology and the struggle for power, that old Machiavellian idea that has been at the center of politics since forever, but merely admitting its existence might throw a politician into disadvantage brought forth by pulling back the curtain on the political show revealing that ideology is meaningless without power. This is nothing new, but with the great performances from Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman and Giamatti we develop a new-found interest in the matter. Add a little intrigue, controversy and backstabbing and you got yourself a compelling piece of cinema that doesn’t make you feel too guilty for enjoying. definitely worth it.

October 31, 2011

Drive (2011)

Absolutely brilliant! With its quietly calculated and mysterious Ryan Gosling (who is taking a break from being the heartthrob du jour, but perhaps only perpetuating his status with his strong, silent-type unnamed hero) the film is everything I wanted it to be and more. From the Dirty-Dancing-style hot-pink titles and electro 80’s sountrack, you immediately realize that this is not yet another Fast and the Furious or Transporter rehash. It is a driving movie but it is not a movie that’s all about driving. In fact, the driving sequences are but a small portion of the film, and I rather interpret the title as the drive that pushes someone to achieve their goal, whatever that may be in the driver’s case. While very little is said about Gosling’s character, he is surrounded by an array of well defined characters (the fragile Mulligan, the ruthless Perlman and Brooks, the flawed, father-like Cranston) through which we learn much more about the driver than we do from his own actions. If there is any downside to this, is that Christina Hendricks is severely underused, with but a brief role that doesn’t do her justice, but considering the the rest, can easily be forgiven. It’s been compared to everything from Tarantino, to Lynch to classic noir, as well as the more obvious references to 60’s/70’s driving films (Bullitt, The Driver) but despite the comparisons, Drive stands on its own, with Refn providing his personal brand of art/action/drama that is at once original and a tribute to its predecessors, making this one a definite must. 

October 4, 2011

The Tree of Life (2011)

Here is what is an essentially coming-of-age/loss-of-innocence formula, that Malick attempts to turn into something bigger than it really is. Evoking (through imagery, narration and soundtrack) both spiritual and metaphysical aspects of the world and of life. Unfortunately, wrapping the central story in experimental imagery and CG dinosaurs with a sprinkle of a depressed Sean Penn isn’t enough to turn this slower, poorer version of Stand by Me into the next Space Odyssey (to which reviews often draw parallels for some reason). Don’t get me wrong, I love Malick’s work, mostly from Days of Heaven onwards, but unfortunately this one is uneven and overly long considering the subject matter. It has all the Malick signature moves like the rustling grass and insect sounds and wind, but unfortunately it doesn’t manage to captivate the viewer as much as his previous work. Some reason for this might be that not many can relate to growing up in 1950’s Texas like Malick, or perhaps it is due to the religious undertones that by now seem outdated and preachy. There are many great feelings that this film evokes, particularly the ones triggered by Malick’s skillful portrayal of nature and landscapes, but ultimately, the so called plot falls flat, with the only redeeming factor (other than Malick’s direction) is Pitt’s performance, with the rest (including, unfortunately Hunter McCracken, the main child protagonist) being largely typecast. While not a perfect film, I am still anxious to see the next project to come from Malick, which will hopefully balance his repertoire of great work.

October 2, 2011

Melancholia (2011)

With perhaps one of Von Trier's largest cast of feature actors including Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård (Eric Northman on True Blood), John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård and Udo Kier (as the comic relief), Melancholia is a 2 part end-of-the-world story that slowly unravels with a constant feeling of dread and anxiety, albeit not one motivated by the coming apocalypse. Starting with gorgeously composed tableaus that sum up the whole film and satisfy our need for aesthetic excellence, the film quickly switches to the shaky-out-of-focus mess that is Dogme95 style. As the ‘plot’ develops, we are introduced to the star-studded cast, nicely used throughout the spellbinding first half of the film, where the elaborate wedding party slowly disintegrates into a colossal mess, though not an unexpected one. Kirsten Dunst nicely fulfills the role of the anxiety-ridden depressed bride, and she carries the first half of the film with great success until her eventual collapse at its end. Changing pace and greatly reducing cast, the 2nd half becomes more familiar Von Trier territory, with Dunst becoming less central and Gainsbourg taking the lead. Presented as the strong, stable half of the two sisters in the first half, Gainsbourg slowly switches roles with Dunst, becoming more and more agitated as the impending apocalypse nears. It is as if Justine came to terms with humanity’s fate whereas Claire is just now beginning to see reality and refuses to accept it. The film isn’t perfect, at times it drags on and risks boredom (though considering Von Trier’s past work, this shouldn’t be a valid complaint) but overall it fits nicely within the director’s repertoire. Visually, the first part is bathed in tungsten and gives the whole wedding a very warm, emotionally driven look, whereas the 2nd part features colder colors, with a lot more outdoor shots on cloudy days, providing the backdrop for Gainsbourg’s character’s half of the story. Overall more subdued than Von Trier’s other work, but as Justine exclaims to her new ex-husband at the end of the first half, “What did you expect?”

August 19, 2011

X-Men: First Class (2011)

The X-Men get the swingin’ 60’s treatment, complete with miniskirts and Cuban missile crisis. Like those old bond movies (from which it borrows a little, much like the Austin Powers films), the gang battles an over-the-top villain, portrayed by no other than Kevin Bacon. By now, movies almost have to be a little tongue-in-cheek for us to consider Bacon as anything else than hilarious, and as a super-bond-like-villain, he fulfils the role nicely. The young actors nicely fill in the shoes of their older counterparts (with even some funny references to their ‘older’ versions from the previous movies) and overall make for an entertaining, not bad but not great, film. The inclusion of the Russians was a nice touch, and the ever-lovely January Jones makes for a great bond villainess, complete with diamonds. The Russians and the CIA are caricatures at best, with mostly character actors hired to play each part. Thankfully there was no bad Kennedy impersonator, and instead they opted for real footage. Overall not great, but definitely watchable and definitely fun. A must if you’re an X-Men fan.

August 14, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Not sure what the target audience for this film is. The English lit name dropping would probably confuse the average rom-com goer, and the reductionist simplification of art history -turned plot device -turned character growth -turned emotional life lesson would be dismissed by the very people that would actually be familiar with all the literature lore. I can only assume Allen was trying to hit as many targets as possible, with at least *most* of the audience at least recognizing *some* of the figures. Personally I enjoyed the Buñuel bit where he is presented with the premise of a plot about dinner party guests that can’t leave the dinner party (the plot to Buñuel’s El ángel exterminador, which I adore). Adrien Brody is also excellent as a young Dalí, and in fact the whole surrealist scene was a gem as well. Plot-wise it’s tightly wrapped together, with the usual Allen signatures of relationship issues and hilarious overwritten dialogues, which is not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, the downside is Owen Wilson, which I had a hard time buying as the intellectual struggling writer that he attempts to be, but is quickly dismissed with a scene where he is talking to himself admitting he failed high-school English. Overall fun light comedy that straddles the line between intellectual literary masturbation, inside humour and dumbed down Hollywood fare. It barely makes it but it’s overall watchable. Certainly better than most of the dumb rom-com fare out there right now.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

The prequel series reboot by novice director Rupert Wyatt meets expectations. it has all the winks to the original series that the fans might expect, complete with statue of liberty, the ‘damn dirty apes’ and ‘madhouse’ quotes and even a cameo of sorts by Heston (try to spot it). Ultimately though, this is just a CG monster flick, with most of the plot progression nicely anticipated. If anything, it plays it safe with the evolution crowd - the apes no longer evolve naturally into a smarter society, but rather gain their intelligence from a miracle drug. In this sense, the miracle drug reduces the plot to the use of an Unobtainium, but more broadly reduces the philosophical implications (of evolution, intelligence, man-animal interaction) to a mere plot device and has more in common with a zombie flick than with the original. It is not a bad movie overall, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, sure it was better than the 2001 Burton remake, despite how much I would have liked that one to have worked. Franco is solid and Pinto is as lovely as ever, although they are both underused. Lithgow and Cox were strong as well, although I can’t help but think that they were just fulfilling a role and nothing else. Definitely to see if you’re a planet of the apes fan, and also if you’re not, as it’s surely better than a lot of the other commercial stuff that’s in the cineplexes these days.

June 27, 2011

The Rite (2011)

Hollywood’s latest Exorcist clone, featuring Anthony Hopkins in the elderly priest role, supposedly replacing Max von Sydow’s role from the original, albeit poorly. Unfortunately not even Hopkins can save this one. It starts off promising but quickly descends into cliché and a blatantly pathetic attempt to capitalize on whatever relevance Christianity still thinks it has. The rite is one of those films that I knew I wanted to see based on the subject matter and actor alone, but everything else around it, including plot and acting seems sub-par (even Hopkins seems like he’s just delivering his lines with the enthusiasm of someone who’s only doing it for the money – which he is, he pretty much stopped giving a shit around the time he starred alongside Chris Rock in that buddy cop movie ‘Bad Company’). The only “good” part in it is Ciarán Hinds, but that’s only because he was so great in Rome. If I really wanted some Exorcist clones I’d go with something like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and anything with Gabriel Byrne or Paul Bettany in it. And for god’s sake you make a vatican movie with no conspiracy? Have you learnt nothing?

June 15, 2011

Super 8 (2011)

The latest J.J Abrams lense-flare simulator is finally here and it has the added benefit of raping our childhood with pseudo-Spielberg nostalgia. From the start, with that Amblin E.T. logo and the title announcing Spielberg as producer, this is all about evoking those fond memories of times gone by, when kids rode bicycles at night and got into adventurous trouble. To his credit, it is well executed for the most part, and the kids’ performances shine in an otherwise adult film (I presume most kids their age would not benefit from the 80’s nostalgia factor, at least not in the way they would from something like Transformers, but that’s a whole other angle). It riffs off of things like E.T., Gremlins, Goonies and the like, with a diverse bunch of (white) kids in smalltown (white) america. The effects and mystery however are just a canvas for the developing relationships between the kids against he backdrop of their respective parents. The ending is, as expected, flawed, perhaps because the mystery is all too predictable or perhaps because we stop caring towards the part where the air-force turns the little town into their own private battlefield for the kids to dodge bullets through. The signature Abrams flares are just as distracting, appearing seemingly out of nowhere (like in a dark underground cave, or due to moonlight) but not nearly as distracting as they were in Star Trek. Anachronisms are abound, but overall necessary for the nostalgia factor. So what if the walkman was only introduced to the Japanese market a whole month after the movie happens and only made it to the U.S. a year later, it’s still funny to see them talk about it like it’s the latest and greatest thing. Overall the film is better than average and actually quite enjoyable, especially if you can related to the nostalgia, but ultimately it is nevertheless flawed.

May 24, 2011

Thor (2011)

Serving as a sort of filler between last year’s Iron Man 2 (2010) and July’s Captain America (and 2012’s The Avengers), Thor isn't really much to write home about. Despite boasting a cast that includes Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins and a (mostly) apt director with a Shakespearean background, it is mostly a series of effects linked loosely by a sorry excuse for a plot and almost no character development. It’s not completely unwatchable, especially if you’re into marvel superheroes or 3D, but it is overall flawed when compared with other, better superhero films, that is to say, Iron Man. Not sure whose bright idea it was to get Branagh to direct this, I can only assume Branagh accepted it as a quick and easy way to make money. I might be the only one to have enjoyed the Asgard scenes, but perhaps only because they vaguely reminded me of those scenes in the 1978 Superman on Krypton, with Brando as Superman’s dad. Everything was shiny and gem-like. Other than that, the few attempts at comedy and Portman’s presence didn’t save this, and unless you can see it for free like I did or if you’re an avid marvel fan, this is to be avoided.

May 18, 2011

Biutiful (2010)

Iñárritu does Bardem. You’d figure the result would be good, but it’s not. It’s a messy, depressive and agonizing ride that never ends or goes anywhere. Gone are the interweaved plots that are Iñárritu’s signature, and instead we are left with a shaky disco mess of immigrants, petty crime and death, redeemable perhaps only by Bardem’s performance and the plastic boob-headed strippers. The chinless nose-monster that is supposed to be the female lead also gives it a train-wreck kind of quality that just makes you want to continue watching despite yourself. I do appreciate Iñárritu’s effort towards agony and desperation, but he has a long way to go before he can reach the apex of the genre that was perfected by the likes of Bergman and von Trier. Despite the cancer, dead immigrants, crime and crazy wife, I still feel like Bardem’s character hasn’t gone through enough, and his burden is somehow alleviated by living in Barcelona and the calm medditerranean waves (that in this case, carries floating chinese immigrant bodies, but is nevertheless calming). Not Iñárritu’s best work, but overall sufferable for all the foreign-film whores.

May 3, 2011

The Handmaid's Tale (1990)

Atwood’s award-winning novel by the same name is apparently a standard required reading in Canadian high schools. Having gone to french high school, I never got the chance to read it, so when I finally got around to doing so I also found out that there was a 1990 film adaptation starring Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. After having finished the book I knew that I wanted to watch the adaptation. Since I recently watched Red Dawn (1984), I figured that maybe a dystopic future America that isn’t all about invading soviets might be something interesting. The book makes great source material for the movie, especially given its primary-colour coded social classes/castes and overall dystopic backdrop. Overall the script remains relatively close to the book, with minor modifications and a less open-ended finish, but overall it keeps with the book’s intentions. Stylistically however, the film is eerily mute and subdued, considering the subject matter. Characters appear lifeless and performances seem forced, of almost B-movie calibre. Despite this, however, I found it oddly fitting given the book’s sense of bondage and the totalitarian-style ‘don’t say anything wrong because who knows who can hear you or whom you can trust’. In that respect, the characters’ obligation to conform to the regime’s ideological and behavioural doctrine imposed on them against their will gives the performances seem particularly appropriate, if not necessarily intentional. Overall interesting, but a far cry from the book.

April 6, 2011

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Jason Eisner's fake-grindhouse-trailer-turned-feature-length gore-a-palooza's main strength lies in the fact that unlike Machete, Planet Terror and Death Proof, it does not set out to emulate a 70's b-movie using today's technology. Rather, it is an actual B-movie with the added benefit of a neon-washed 80's Canadian tinge. Compared to grindhouse' $50 million and Machete's $10 million budgets, Hobo's meagre $3 million is definitely putting it in B-movie territory by comparison. Nevertheless, that figure is no small change, so Eisner/Davies find creative ways to spend it on nice little pointless details (like a classic 70's New Brunswick gull-wing door Bricklin SV-1 sports car, a pair of metal-clad armoured warriors or a tentacled monster). The style and themes definitely evoke early John Waters fare, and while the oversaturated colours do tend to dip into the teal and orange/orange-blue contrast curse that has been plaguing Hollywood lately, for the most part they evoke that old timey Technicolor feel. That combined with a heavily electronic 80's inspired soundtrack, give it that unique feel that neither Tarantino nor Rodriguez managed to accomplish with their own forays into the realm of vintage. The most delightful thing about it though, is its distinctively Canadian nature. From the CN rail on which the hobo rides into Halifax, to Robb Wells of Trailer Park Boys fame, to George Stroumboulopoulos's tv news anchor that gets murdered on-air with an ice-skate, to the mobs of plaid-clad nova-scotians sent to roam the streets in search for hobos, this is an unmistakeably and unapologetically Canadian movie. Canadian visual symbols aren't the only signs of a Canadian film in Hobo however. The distinct twisted morality, off-kilter psychology and the Cronenbergesque fidelity for mutilation invoke everything that's great and special about Canadian film. Well worth it if you're in for some campy gory fun. OH yeah, and there's also Rutger Hauer, a paedophilic santa-claus, naplaming a schoolbus and topless human piñata if you weren't convinced.

March 30, 2011

Sucker Punch (2011)

Girl Interrupted meets Moulin Rouge/Chicago/Burlesque meets Project A-ko, meets Dead Snow meets Lord of the Rings meets Casshern . I think this is the first time I see steam-powered mechanized zombie hybrid Nazis. Its like it was designed to be a geek's wet dream. If you came here for plot or an explanation thereof then you can look somewhere else (although to its credit, the ending ties most everything nicely together). Nothing really special here, but if you're just in it for the over-the-top gratuitous braindead (hehr: pun) effects/CG then you'll get your money's worth.

February 25, 2011

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Charming! I loved Helande-directed shorts that proceeded it (look for them on youtube), and I was delighted to learn that a 3rd, feature-length film was produced. It works very well on its own, without viewing the previous shorts and makes for a hilariously dark Santa origin story. Wonderfully Nordic and masterfully crafted, this is one that's definitely worth checking out.

December 25, 2010

I'm Still Here (2010)

I don't buy the whole 'it was only a hoax' thing. I think the guy is still off his rocker, calling it a hoax was the only way he could get away with it and still be allowed to make movies. I think I liked confused/upset bearded JP better than real-life-crazy Joaquin. If you watch some of the post-movie interviews, where he's supposedly 'cleaned up' you can totally tell that he's still bubbling with sorts of crazy up in there. In this sense, this is a hoax-within-a-hoax. Had this been real, it would have been like 'Grizzly Man'-calibre, but alas, the world isn't perfect, and our dear Juaquin will join the ranks of other hollywood actors who are pretending to keep it all together but are really crazy inside, like Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci and Danny DeVito.

October 25, 2010

Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

Brilliant! Be it a hoax or not, 'Exit Through The Gift Shop' is at once entertaining, fascinating, insightful and a poignant comment on the state of contemporary art today. I wish with all my heart that it is not a Banksy hoax, but at times, the over-the-top humour and 'too-good-to-be-true' plot seems to point to the contrary. Regardless of authenticity, the film presents a rare and curious peek into the world of street-art and contemporary art in general. Thierry's (and by extension Banksy's) presence, be it authentic or not, gives at an at once entertaining, fascinating and 'all-too-real' look into the nature of art and artistic success as it exists in today's world. Overall brilliant and I would recommend it to anyone with any interest the state of art and artistic merit in today's 'so-real-it-must-be-fake' reality.

July 25, 2010

Castaway on the Moon (Kimssi pyoryugi) (2009)

funny, heartwarming and charming. a very simple story that at times gets a bit clichée but overall executed almost to perfection. makes it feel very fresh and pulls you in to the story and emotion. with every step and every day, you feel more and more for the characters until you're rooting for them on that last stretch of highway running after the bus. not to miss!

May 25, 2010

Omohide poro poro (Only Yesterday) (1991)

Isao Takahata's second feature at Studio Ghibli, despite being a light nostalgic drama about growing up and one woman's introspection into her attitude on life, establishes Takahata's style, along with Grave of the Fireflies, as one that has an appeal to a somewhat older audience, with perhaps an affinity for more adult themes than those usually explored by fellow Miyazaki. While alternating between 1966 and 1982, the heroine reminisces about her life as a 10 year old in Tokyo and how it shaped her outlook on life 16 years later at 27. There is slow buildup toward the final climax that brings her to some painful realizations, but eventually she is redeemed and we are offered an optimistic conclusion as the credits roll by. Overall enjoyable, although I think it might have been more effective without the happy ending. It offers, in small part, a critique of industrial and urban life vs. a farmer's simple country life, although it is very much idealized and romanticized to fit in with the emotional path that the film is taking. Preferred it over Grave of the Fireflies, which I felt was trying too hard to jerk those tears, and I think it was a more adult and rational view on emotions and growing up, at least to the extent that anime can get at.

April 25, 2010

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2008)

Yet another masterpiece born out of Holywood's fascination with pain and suffering and fueled by its liberal guilt. Ofcourse, plotwise this is risible, having things like Mariah and random Lenny Kravit's in there is redoknulous, but honestly every movie that gets away with having the overweight black chick running away with a bukkit of chikkin is A-OK in my book. Props go to Mo'Nique for an amazing performance, although I can't tell how much of it was acting and how much was her riffing on racial stereotypes that Holywood is pushing. Still it took guts to go ahead with all those close-ups of her makeupless face and bad skin and all. This is a curious mix between something depressing à la Trier (Dogville, Manderlay), inspirational sap à la Dangerous Minds (I half-wished for Gangsta's Paradise to randomly start playing in the background) and Oprah. Overall I liked it, but maybe not for the right reasons, but oh well, I can't possibly hope to relate in the truly meaningful way that I'm sure the makers of this intended me to.

The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band) (2009)

Another masterpiece from Writer/Director Michael Hanke, of Funny Games and Caché fame. As intriguing and engrossing as the story of The White Ribbon is, I can't help but think that this is a mere excuse for Hanke and cinematographer Christian Berger (which worked on most of Henke's films) to create this tour de force of cinematographic aesthetics. I absolutely adore the way that this film looks. Be it in part that I'm a sucker for that classic 60's black and white look (as it was used at a time when color cinematography was well surpassing black and white, and its use was purely aesthetic) or because I can appreciate a form-over-content philosophy. This is not to say that the story is inferior or in anyway overshadowed by the aesthetics; in fact they compliment each other quite nicely. The performances are solid, with an ensemble cast of mostly character actors and child actors that do a wonderful job of conveying the imminent feeling of dread in a small German town before WWI. Many choose to read into the plot various things, mostly related to human nature and totalitarian/patriarchal regimes and even the rise of nazism (although relatively a very distant echo), but in the end I found that taking it at face value and just enjoying the form as much as the plot, without too much hypothesizing, worked best. Overall great film, albeit one that will most likely appeal to the more art-film inclined audiences.

March 25, 2010

Italiensk for Begyndere (Italian for Beginners) (2001)

I always dread of comedies as they tend to always be dumbed down and generally instill a sense of guilt in me as I watch them. Thankfully there are things like Italian for Beginners and The Boss of it All that supplement the laughs with a good dose of absurd, grief and requisite avant-garde Danish cinema movement to put it all into perspective. This actually fits Dogme 95 while still managing to work very well as a light-hearted romantic comedy (although by no means to the extent that some Hollywood vanilla would have it). So yes, there is the handheld camera, the occasional jumpcut and the overall depressing feel of a small Danish town. But so what? It only shows that you can find humour in anything, and it doesn't have to be watered down and washed out, reduced to the lowest common denom just to qualify as funny. Not many movies manage to mix miserable despair and grief with comedy quite so eloquently, and I am thankful that there are still filmmakers out there willing to do it for the rest of us when we feel that we have seen the same old Hollywood comedy for the 500th time.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2009)

The third and final part of the Millennium trilogy. Like the previous two, it follows the book pretty closely, tweaking the plot here and there and getting rid of some unrelated subplots to make it fit the cinematic format a little tighter. Overall great adaptation of the book, considering the original's length. Some characters are completely gone and some are reduced to a few lines and smaller roles, but in the end the most crucial parts and the overall feel are still there. Noomi Rapace is again great as Salander, and the rest of the cast fits in nicely with their novel counterparts. I am so thankful that this was picked up by a Swedish filmmaker keeping most of the original regionalisms intact, instead of some undoubtedly failed Hollywood adaptation (although I'm sure one is in the works). Overall enjoyable, but definitely to watch AFTER having read the novel.

February 25, 2010

In the Company of Men (1997)

I feel as though Holywood has not completely exhausted the whole 'harsh businessman's world' motif in cinema, but so far it has had some pretty good examples of the genre. In the Company Of Men is a fine example of this, perhaps a precursor to things like Boiler Room and Rodger Dodger, but also to American Psycho to a certain extent. Thankfully shows like Mad Men pick up the slack, but nevertheless In the Company of Men serves as an early precursor to a genre that still has a lot left in it to be explored. Aaron Eckhart is of course excellent in a role that he since has honed to perfection leading up to its peak in Thank You for Smoking, providing a more raw version of the Nick Taylor character in that movie but ultimately just as deranged as Bale's Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, albeit in a less bloody manner. Watching it in 2010 shows signs of its age, prompting snickers when they talk about physical files and folders and carrying their oversized cell-phones, but ultimately it was not too distracting to be able to relate to in a contemporary context. Overall enjoyable and well made considering the budget. Ending didn't disappoint, although not completely unpredictable.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Having only experienced the book after seeing the film, I find it to be a close and appropriate adaptation, and I'm glad that Spike Jonze was the man at the helm. Having said this, I can't help but feel like I was prying into a world that was better experienced through the nostalgic eyes of an adult who flipped through the book in their youth. The film has all of Jonze's signature moves, including the dark, awkward feeling of Being John Malkovich and the plot ambiguity of Adaptation. The original material is inevitably expanded upon, with the Things getting much bigger roles than in the book, but keeping with the original concept, the Things function as caricatures of old jewish couples, as the original book's author (with which Jonze kept contact throughout the making of the film) intended when he designed them based on his aunts and uncles of his Brooklyn youth. The one exception was Gandolfini in Carol's role, whose voice is by now so linked with the iconic Tony Soprano that it was hard to separate the two, but I found it worked nicely since Carol is the most violent and temperamental of the Things. I think it's more than appropriate for kids, although the slow pace will most likely have them bored instead of scared by the dark portions. Overall, a fun ride for fans of the book or Jonze, albeit less so for audiences that don't care for either unless under the influence of some good hallucinogens.